Are Tax Returns Public Record?

Tax returns are not public record.

Tax returns are not public record; they are private. Tax returns contain confidential information that is not readily available to the public. With the increasing number of online tax filing services, some information is being used and sold publicly, but that is not advocated by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Unless there is a legal reason to disclose information on a tax return, the information is not available for public access.


Court Proceedings

If your tax return is needed for a court proceeding, an attorney or a judge can access your personal financial documents, including current and previous tax returns. A lawyer can subpoena your tax records if he has proof that the documents are necessary to the case. In a court proceeding concerning fraudulent activities, the courts are given access to the defendant's personal financial records. Tax returns are also available to attorneys who need the financial information for bankruptcy filings. However, these tax documents can only be used for court-related issues and are not accessible to the public at large.


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Unpaid Child Support

If you have not paid child support in a timely and efficient manner, child advocates appointed by the state and attorneys can access your personal financial files. Current and previous tax returns are used to show your income, annual deductions and exemptions if unpaid child support is in question. Once again, your financial documents are used to determine your penalty for unpaid child support and are not available to the public.


Financial Aid Programs

In some cases, qualification for federal- or state-sponsored financial aid programs requires an administrator to access your personal tax returns. Welfare funds, college financial aid and government-sponsored grants are often determined based upon income levels shown on your financial records, including your annual tax returns. In most cases, the administrator of these financial aid programs requests the documentation and you provide it for her. Your tax return is not public record.


Money Owed to the Government

If you owe back taxes to the IRS, all information on your tax return is available to any IRS agent who is investigating the unpaid tax. Auditors are privileged to the information revealed on your annual tax returns. Even though the IRS has full access to all of your tax filings, the information is not made public. IRS agents and tax auditors can only use the information to determine the penalty for the unpaid tax.


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